On this snow day, LP has been grappling with an essay for Honors English. They've been studying "The Crucible," and the assignment is to write about a personal experience that functioned as a crucible in which the student learned something about the content of her character. A crucible, of course, is a severe trial or test, in metaphoric terms. (It seems important to be clear about what we mean this week, doesn't it?) It refers also to the crucibles used to heat metals until they become molten. In the heat you can see what you really have, what the substance really is, its essence.
We have the same kind of image in scripture, of a fire that refines, burning away the bad in us, dividing what's essential from what is not.
LP feels it's a ludicrous assignment for a 15-year-old. I guess I'm grateful that she feels that way, that her own life has been uneventful enough that her sense of personal right and wrong has not been challenged enough to bring her to a crisis of character.
I wish I could say the same.
This was a Snow Day for a lot of people in Southern Maine. It always fascinates me to see a company or a town or a hospital say that non-essential personnel can stay home. Not long after I gave up on being able to drive to a very important appointment this morning, my physician neighbor left for the hospital, for essential work. My appointment was important, but apparently not essential enough to risk driving when I couldn't see clearly more than a short block ahead of me.
It wouldn't ordinarily be a big crisis to make that decision, but in this case it was fraught with emotion about the changes in my life that perhaps hampered rational decision-making. It was sensible Snowman, who had cleaned off my car and offered to accompany me, who also supported me in turning the car around. I hope I would have been smart enough to do it anyway.
But I will say that when I've made mistakes, done things I wish I could take back or not done the thing I later saw would have been wisest, it's been at times when my emotional life was in some measure of turmoil. I know that about myself, and I've observed that kind of behavior in other people, too, and the wisdom of 49 would like to say to the innocence of 15 that it's often the smaller decisions that tell us who we really are.
We may think it will be the big decisions–the first drink or the first lover or the first cigarette (not that, okay?) or the first class we cut or the first lie we tell purposefully–or the first disappointments–the job we lose or the love or the friend or the parent–or the first failures–the thing we forget or the hurt we inflict or the absolute mess we make– we may think those are the significant crucibles.
One of the things I know about my character is that I'm impulsive. Another is that I am stubborn. That combination has brought me unexpected relationships and opportunities of marvelous depth and surpassing satisfaction and it's also gotten me into situations that might have been better left unexplored and that I stayed in or connected to longer than might have been optimal.
I'm reminded today that smaller actions are influenced by my characteristics, too. The trouble is I have even less time to think them through. They go by too fast. I hang myself up by leaping and trusting and having to sort it out later, and sometimes that has an impact on someone other than me.
This morning was better. It had all the hallmarks of the stubborn impulsive Songbird I hope someone you love, putting herself under pressure to get somewhere because that's what it said she was supposed to do in an official letter and in her calendars both paper and iPhone, and the impulsiveness said, "You can do it!" and the stubbornness said, "You had better do it." And the prayer I said when I grabbed Snowman's gloved hand with mine was "God, help us get there. Please. Amen."
But in the snowy crucible of Brighton Avenue, I managed to separate what is important from what is essential. Sometimes it's not worth risking an accident even to do something important. Some things will have to wait. And what I learned in the white heat of this morning is that even though I don't like it, I have to find a way to live with it.